No looking back as Brandcom surges forward

Brandcom’s Nirmal Diwadkar tells Steven Wrelton about life after Lowe and why advertising is like baking bread

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By  Steve Wrelton Published  June 4, 2006

No looking back as Brandcom surges forward|~|Diwadkar200.jpg|~|Diwadkar… ‘For us to deliver the best creative product we don’t compromise on anything’|~|Nirmal Diwadkar is affectionately known as Popeye to his colleagues. It might sound flippant, but it is a good indication of the kind of place that Brandcom is. At the agency’s offices in Dubai Media City there is not a glum face to be seen. There is a buzz in the air and it’s clear that people are enjoying themselves — right up to naming the boss with 17-inch biceps (yes, 17 inches) after the cartoon sailor man himself. On first impressions Diwadkar, a committed health and fitness freak, doesn’t appear to be the laugh-a-minute type of guy. He is charming and witty, for sure, but also quite serious. “I’m branded as an introvert who won’t talk unless I really need to,” he says. “Action should speak louder than anything else. It’s the work, it’s the work, it’s the work. That is the mantra here. Let the work speak.” In April Diwadkar’s team went from being Lowe Dubai to Brandcom once again after Lowe opted to take a direct financial stake in the region and transferred its franchise to the Middle East Communication Networks. Now that the dust has had a chance to settle, how did Diwadkar feel the transfer of one of the best known names in advertising was handled? Are there any feelings of resentment? “We were given enough notice, we were given enough indication, so I have no complaints with the way that Lowe Worldwide handled it with us,” he says. “Honestly, Lowe has given us a lot. A lot of influence on the way we do our work. A lot of credit goes to all of the great people that trained us. There is no sense of bitterness, none whatsoever.” In February, Lowe Worldwide president Tony Wright said that ads from the Middle East were “patronising” and the closest he got to praising Brandcom was to say that they had done “some good work”. What does Diwadkar think of what Wright had to say? Surely it was a bit of a kick in the teeth, especially for an agency that recently won a bronze at The One Show in New York for its work on Axe? Diwadkar doesn’t address Wright personally in his response, but he makes a clear point all the same. “We’ve put up more than 45 awards in the last three years. We’ve made our presence felt at Cannes, at The One Show — and across all portfolios and not just on Axe. Emirates Skycargo, HSBC, Unilever — let the work speak.” So he doesn’t agree with what Wright said, then? “No, I don’t,” he says bluntly. Whatever went on at the time, Diwadkar is eager to move on and is relishing the challenge of taking on new clients that were previously off limits. “We’re looking at it as an opportunity on what new brands we can get on board in categories that we were not allowed to earlier,” he says. This excitement has already manifested itself in the form of new business wins. The agency has added 10 new accounts to its portfolio and is “aggressively” seeking new clients. By his own admission Diwadkar is an “aberration” when it comes to business. He has made a career out of advertising because he is creative and he loves ideas, not because he is a whizz at balancing the books. “I wanted to have a life where I could paint, where painting was all I could do,” he says. “I graduated from art school in Bombay and thought I would be a fine artist painting portraits all my life. But someone at art school said to me that I was good with ideas and why didn’t I try advertising — so I gave it a shot.” Diwadkar started his career at Lintas in Bombay before coming to Dubai at 22 to join a fledgling agency which, unfortunately, didn’t work out for him. He went on to join Team where he spent two years working as an art director, before moving back to Lintas again, which was setting up its Middle Eastern arm under the name of Lintas Gulf. Along the way, through what is a mind-boggling array of name changes (Lowe Lintas & Partners, Brandcom, Lowe, Brandcom again) Diwadkar has climbed the ranks to creative director and finally to chief operating officer. He is modest about his rise to the top of the agency tree. “I have always been given an opportunity to grab, which I have never honestly felt that I was capable of taking on or making a success of. I never planned to be a creative director — all I wanted to do was create ads.” What he enjoys most about the advertising business, he says, is that it forces him to learn about things that he would not normally be curious about. He says: “Every year you look at the brands you’ve been servicing and say ‘wow’ — there’s so much knowledge that you’ve been acquiring. And, of course, knowing that customers actually change their lifetsyle because of the message that you’ve given to them.” And despite his managerial position, Diwadkar still takes a keen interest in the creative outputs of his colleagues. Not because he wants to keep tabs on people, but because he is still driven by the need to have a creative outlet. He has a very close relationship with creative director Manoj Ammanath — “the best I have ever seen” — and respects his authority when it comes to ideas. “I give my input during the creative crafting whether it is to do with words or visuals, the style of photography, editing — whatever it is,” he says. “I think I know when to step down, and when I don’t Manoj tells me to. He’s been my partner for a long time now. He knows when to tell me to fuck off and he does that.” If you’re a marketing manager who is reading this, you might want to know why your firm should be interested in working with Brandcom. How does Diwadkar sell the agency? What makes them different from any other medium-sized agency in Dubai? In Diwadkar’s words — their commitment to brilliance. “We are a creative-driven agency and I think, just like a baker has the ambition of baking the softest bread, we have the ambition of making the best ads,” he says. “The creative product is the final product. To get the softest bread it has to start from step one, from the flour on to everything else. “So for us to deliver the best creative product we don’t compromise on anything. “Whether it’s the strategy, the research, the technology used — the focus is that the end product has to be outstanding. We might not always get it, but more often than not we like to strive for brilliance.” ||**||

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